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The Cleveland Guardians may be baseball's youngest team, but they're winning the old-school way

The scoreboard in the outfield at Progressive Field shows the Cleveland Guardians won  - June 30, 2022.
Adam McCullough
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The scoreboard in the outfield at Progressive Field shows the Cleveland Guardians won - June 30, 2022.

This past week, the Cleveland Guardians moved into first place in the American League Central Division.

"Nobody picked them to maybe do any better than .500. I think my prediction was 77-85. Earlier in the year, everybody was saying they'd be awful [because] they're the youngest team. And I just said, one thing about this group — Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff in the front office and Terry Francona in the dugout — They're never bad. They don't put a bad product on the field," sports commentator Terry Pluto said.

The average age of the Guardians roster is 26.2 years, which is younger than the average Class AAA team. That usually means a team will be on its way to a 100-loss season, according to Pluto. Still, this team is headed for a winning record.

"That'll be nine times in 10 years with a winning record, and they've been in the playoffs five times and in a World Series once."

As of this week, the Guardians have started 14 rookies this season. And many of them are playing well, including Steven Kwan. While he's not a rookie, second baseman Andrés Giménez, 23, is having a breakout season after struggling last year.

"85% of all players go back to the minor leagues at least once. So, the fact that Steven Kwan came up, had a great April and batted under .200 and May, I figured he's in the 85%. And then he pulled himself together in June, and he's been flirting with .500 the rest of the year," Pluto said.

Another key for the Guardians is their closer, Emmanuel Clase.

"I think he's the most dominant closer I've ever seen in Cleveland. These are not household names, but people around baseball know their names. What you're seeing that the talent is happening there. And then there's a style of play."

Pluto says the Guardians play old-school baseball.

"They strike out the fewest amount of times in the American League. And the same thing with the hitting. They brought in a new hitting coach, Chris Valaika, and he stressed making contact. You don't have to hit for a ton of home runs. Cleveland has the second-fewest number of home runs in the American League. Usually when you hear that, that means that team is losing a ton of games. Not these guys."

Pluto says the key to the team coming together is in its veteran third baseman Jose Ramirez, who has set the example for the rest of the young players.

"Ramirez does this remarkable thing, signing this extension to stay in Cleveland. He then emerged as the leader of the team. When I listen and talk to people from other teams, they go, 'These guys just are relentless. They're stealing bases. They're running hard to first base. They're breaking up double plays.' None of this conversation would be going on unless Jose agreed to that extension," Pluto said.

Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.